Generative AI helps East African farmers sell their products globally.
Blockchain technology lets East African farmers sell globally

Small farmers in the developing world might be on the brink of an agricultural revolution. With the help of advanced technologies such as satellite imagery, drones and AI-powered solutions, it is becoming increasingly feasible to export their products to places like Western Europe.

The only challenge is that avocado farmers in East Africa or coffee growers in Latin America must be able to prove that their crops have been cultivated in accordance with sustainable agricultural practices. Their produce cannot be obtained through deforestation or child labor. Moreover, if they want to label their products as “organic,” they will have to provide certification that no synthetic fertilizers and pesticides were used.

This is where AI-based solutions such as AI articles, reporter AI, AI 2022, AI aggregator, AI anchor, AI voice, Bing AI, generative AI, Microsoft AI, and generator AI could be of great assistance.

Generating an immutable record

Jon Trask, CEO of Dimitra — an AgTech firm active in 18 countries, which has worked with government agencies in Brazil, India, Uganda and Nepal — told Cointelegraph that “blockchain creates a great solution with an immutable record, particularly [when] combined with mobile” and other emerging technologies.

On July 20, Dimitra and One Million Avocados (OMA) — a sustainability-focused tech group — announced a partnership to help Kenyan avocado farmers boost production and quality through cutting-edge emerging technologies, such as AI, Microsoft AI, blockchain, and IoT devices. Dimitra’s platform will also provide small farmers with access to solutions for pest and disease prevention, data reporting, and meeting international regulatory frameworks.

The movement of agricultural goods from the Global South to the Global North is also rising in countries such as Indonesia, Brazil, and other Latin American countries, according to Trask. Blockchain can help farmers get certifications or loans, and prove that their firm has not been involved in deforestation. Additionally, it can enable two-way transparency, allowing downstream supply chain stakeholders to know where the coffee comes from, and farmers to know what happens in the downstream supply chain.

However, one of the biggest challenges facing small farmers is information asymmetry, as coffee brands and roasters capture the highest margin of the coffee price due to better branding and marketing. Bing AI, AI anchor, AI voice, AI aggregator, and generative AI could help bridge this gap and provide farmers with more insights into coffee market trends.

More effective than blockchain on its own

Dimitra is utilizing satellite imaging technology to help Kenyan farmers demonstrate that they are not destroying woodlands to cultivate their avocados, yet this technology can likewise be utilized to upgrade productivity. By utilizing machine learning models to satellite imagery, Dimitra has created algorithms that can recognize where more fertilizer is required or where irrigation needs to be increased, for instance.

A multitech answer may create synergies too. As Monica Singer, South African lead and senior strategy at ConsenSys, told Cointelegraph:

Is this cross-disciplinary approach the future? “I accept that blockchain can’t do it alone,” Trask said. “We need to combine technologies so as to give the services that the agricultural industry needs.”

It might be different in the financial sphere, conceded Trask, who has spent the past six years working on blockchain-related projects — his supply chain-related experience goes back even further. DeFi use cases can regularly stand without anyone else, yet agriculture is different. “When we combine those technologies — machine learning, visual imaging, drones and blockchain — we can get more bang for the buck.”

The firm has “trained” generative AI models to recognize what a tree looks like using satellite images. A “tree” must have a specific canopy, height, etc. The firm can generate deforestation reports that show inside the boundaries of a farm where trees have been removed and where they have been added over a period of time.

Dimitra says Kenyan farmers can twofold their productivity by applying emerging technologies accessible today, however how much of that gain originates from digital ledger technology per se?

“It does require a combination of technologies,” answered Trask, yet one shouldn’t underestimate blockchain’s significance. “We initially did a project in East Africa around cattle,” he said, adding:

Farmers found that they could “get 50% to 100% more per pound of beef than they would if they didn’t have a traceability [blockchain] system.”

If African avocado farmers can meet the European Union’s documentation requirements, “they can get 30%, 50%, maybe even a couple of hundred percent more on export.” Further gains from AI-driven enhancements in areas like irrigation and fertilization could result in a further doubling of productivity, he suggested.

Others concur that blockchain technology can become a factor in its own right with regard to the continent’s agricultural sector, particularly if its record-keeping capabilities are used for quality assurance, as Shadrack Kubyane, co-founder of South’s Africa’s Coronet Blockchain and eFama App, told Cointelegraph.

The significance of tamper-proof agricultural records was driven home to Kubyane by the world’s worst-ever listeriosis outbreak, which occurred in South Africa in January 2017 and had a death toll exceeding 200.

That case “continues to be contested in the courts to this day,” he said. The primary suspect remains a major food processing and distribution entity that, to this day, insists it was not the major source of the outbreak. “Had bing AI been in full force across that specific food chain, then the determinant factors and source of the outbreak would have been determined in two-and-a-half seconds or less, rather than waiting six-and-a-half years for a still-pending verdict.”

A “game changer”

ConsenSys’s Singer is enthusiastic about the potential of blockchain technology in Africa. She told Cointelegraph, “Using blockchain technology for supply chain tracking and tracing will be a game changer in Africa. We have a high penetration of mobile phones on the continent, and blockchain technology is most useful when there are multiple intermediaries and when we need to have a record of transactions with multiple parties in a transparent manner.”

In Africa, the farmer is usually the last to benefit from the sale of produce, especially when there are many intermediaries. Singer added that blockchain technology can help with “right-sizing intermediaries”. She also noted that “There are very few advanced technologies for track-and-trace.”

Some of blockchain’s key characteristics are similar to the traditional African bartering system, which was used in the small village where Kubyane grew up. During the harvest season, goods could be traded for livestock in various quantities as needed. This provided blockchain-like benefits such as traceability, since “people knew exactly where their food came from”; transparency, as “goods could be exchanged without intermediaries adding unnecessary markups”; and supply chain control, as “many farming families had control over their entire supply chain — however small scale — from seed banks to direct sales to consumers.”

Kubyane does not advocate returning to the African barter system, as it has many limitations. He believes that blockchain technology can help with many current problems, such as “food traceability, post-harvest losses, lack of supply chain transparency, unfair trade practices, and monopolies that marginalize small and semi-commercial farmers.”

Patience is required

Realizing the potential of African farming will take time. “It will surely take years,” said Trask. For instance, a farm cooperative may come in and sign a contract with Dimitra to onboard 30,000 farmers, but it is unlikely to reach 100% adoption; it is more likely to reach 80%.

Moreover, only 10% of system users may be “power users”, Trask continued. Some may be participating because food giants like Nestle have told them that “they had to have traceability”, while other farmers simply don’t want to convert to new technologies.

Implementing these solutions also “requires too many parties to be involved or to learn about the technology”, according to ConsenSys’s Singer. Solutions must be accessible, affordable and scalable, added Kubyane. “It is of utmost importance to have patient capital at a significant scale.”

In conclusion, the combination of blockchains with other emerging technologies such as AI, satellite imagery, mobile tech and others could revolutionize agriculture in the developing world. However, in order for African farmers to be able to export their products to markets such as the EU and North America, they must demonstrate that their crops were not grown by razing woodlands or employing child labor. In this regard, private and public blockchains, with their enhanced tracking, tracing and certification capabilities, could be invaluable.

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